Taking a break from Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas is going the solo route, but that doesn't mean he'll be all alone in his endeavor. Like Gwen Stefani before him, Thomas' got a crew of collaborators to keep him company on ... Something to Be — even if the whole point was just to find himself.
"Stepping out solo, the question was, 'What's the difference? How is this not just another Matchbox record?' " Thomas said. "And that haunted me. It really scared me. But every time you make something new, it's a chance to discover something new about yourself."
What Thomas discovered, though, is that he likes working with others, especially if it's in an unexpected way. John Mayer, for instance, guests on the track "Streetcorner Symphony" — but not as a writer or vocalist.
"John is such a celebrated singer and songwriter that people don't realize he's probably one of the best guitar players in popular music today," Thomas said. "When he heard I was in the studio, he came by to have lunch and talk about music, and he heard this song, and I said, 'I think you would be great on this song.' And he said, 'Oh, I think so too,' so he just played for us. To not sing but to be John Mayer the guitar player, that was really exciting."
Thomas made so many tracks to choose from, it was hard to decide which songs ultimately would make the cut for ... Something to Be (see "Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas Happy To Be Scared Again As He Records Solo LP"). Some songs, such as "When the Heartache Ends" and "Problem Girl," he concedes, could easily have found their way onto a Matchbox record, but the point wasn't to duplicate his band's sound. He was trying to make this record "super diverse," but ultimately, the selection was, in some ways, determined by his invited guests.
"I wound up having Mike Campbell [from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers] playing guitar, and I'm not going to have Mike Campbell playing guitar and then not have it on my record," he said. "And it was exciting to have Robert Randolph [who plays lap-steel guitar on 'I Am an Illusion'] and [guitarist] Jeff Trott from Sheryl Crow's band and [bassist] Mike Elizondo from Dr. Dre's band, and just taking all these people who have no business being on a record together and making some sort of hybrid of something."
Bringing aboard guitarist Wendy Melvoin (from Prince & the Revolution and Wendy & Lisa), whom Thomas calls "the blood of this record" since she's on "pretty much every song," gave him an excuse to get a little funky on a few tracks. "If anyone else played it, I could get in trouble, because it's so Prince. But you can't yell at me, because it's her!" he laughed.
All the grabbing and borrowing from different genres doesn't mean the album, which comes out Tuesday, is necessarily groundbreaking. Nor would Thomas want it to be.
"Popular music has been around a long time, and the hope of me creating something that's never been done before, it's probably not going to happen," he said. "And it's probably not going to be very good if I do. But I do believe I succeeded in doing something different for right now. I don't hear anything on the radio like this right now, and that's good enough for me."